April 28, 2015
People complain about the internet distorting the social fabric, and I understand those concerns. However, over the years unmet “internet friends” have helped me save my cows, doctor my sheep, and now, feed all my livestock. Thanks to Sue, whom I do not know, who might live anywhere in the country, and turns out to live 20 miles away, last night I had hay in my barn. I’m very grateful.
It had snowed off and on all morning. I’d been up since 3 AM grading tests, and by 3 PM after teaching all day I was in a fog of tiredness, standing waiting in a cold rain for the hay delivery. The hay would be damp, but I was too tired to care.
Paul, the hay man, was an extremely nice person about my age. In “real life,” as opposed to the part-time farmer’s double life, he is a local sheriff. By amazing coincidence, fifty years ago his father worked at the school where I live. I also know his cousin (or is it his uncle?) and a long-time next door neighbor. This gave me a cozy feeling. We shared tales of sleepless nights, too much work, and spending one’s only spare time mucking the barn.
Paul brought a pick-up load. I returned the borrowed hay and have more than enough to tide me over until the planned delivery this afternoon.
Thank you, internet! Thank you, Sue!
April 26, 2015
My hay guy, Rick, has always been erratic. In the past he was a drinker, which accounted for some of his fecklessness and broken promises. For the past year he has been much better.
However he was due to deliver a load last weekend and never showed. He never called, never emailed. I called and emailed him all last week as my supply dwindled. No response.
Thursday I ran out of hay. I borrowed some, sure Rick would show up full of charm and excuses. No show. No hay.
Friday I began calling around, looking for another supplier. I have tried to do this in the past, without luck. Relatively few farmers put up “small squares” (traditional hay bales) any more — giant round bales are the modern, less labor-intensive choice — and most who do produce small squares already have their quota of customers. However, I persevered. I finally was able to make arrangements for a hay delivery today, the earliest possible. I have been borrowing hay for three days, not only an embarrassment but a lot of sweat.
I just had an email from the new supplier. He is a dairy farmer and has had a calving emergency this morning; the vet is on the way. He now cannot come until Tuesday.
I am breathing deeply.
April 26, 2015
It’s been cold and grey for days, with intermittent snow. I know this is normal for spring in the Adirondacks, but it is feeling dreary and heavy this year. I am struggling.
The endless work. Big disappointments. Grief. The endless work. I am ready for a break in the cold and clouds and discouragement.
In my mind’s eye, I can see my elderly friend Allen in his seat in the truck, nodding.
“Done whinin’?” he asks cheerfully, patting my hand.
Yes. One thing Allen, my father, and my husband all have in common: not one of them would ever whine. Onward.
April 22, 2015
Yesterday morning I was pouring a can of grain into the sheep feeder when I looked through the welded wire and saw an upturned udder and legs stiff in the air. Lambs were trampling the body to get to the grain trough. My heart dropped to my shoes.
I can’t take any more deaths, I thought, even as I walked around to the gate to go in and pull out the body and try to figure out what possibly might have happened.
To my enormous relief, when I got to the ewe I found she was still alive but stuck upside down. It was Geranium, one of my nicest ewes, who had evidently lain next to the feeder on a small slope and then, in getting up, accidentally rolled over onto her back and become wedged next to the feeder, unable to move. Sheep on their backs are not only helpless in the face of attack but their rumens stop working and they fill with gas. This is called bloat. Pressure on the heart will then kill the sheep.
With a tremendous heave on her back hooves, I pulled Geranium away from the feeder. She staggered weakly to her feet. Her sides were so distended with gas she looked as if she were carrying quadruplets. With some difficulty I got her into a jug with hay and water, and by the time I had milked and left for work the painful distension was already beginning to deflate. By evening chores Geranium seemed fine and I let her back in with the flock.
Be still my heart.
* * *
Checking the barn last night at 9 PM I heard the first wood frogs calling in the farm pond. We are due for snow today and tomorrow but the frogs tell me springtime is here.
April 20, 2015
In one of our first exchanges back in 2006, my future friend Allen was working with an excavator around the barn site while I knelt in the dirt struggling to cut off 18 Sonotubes level to the lines we’d marked with a laser. My job was tedious, fiddly (a fight to keep the hand saw straight across the middle of the tube) and seemed to take forever. I was hot and bug-bitten and cross. Allen drove by and shouted to me encouragingly with his big grin, “You’re gainin’ on ’em!”
Now I am tired and sad and cross. However, I am forcing myself to tackle the items on my long list one by one. Even crossing off something small makes me feel better. I may be overwhelmed, the list may be too long, the results may not be perfect. But I’m gainin’ on ’em, and that’s a good thing.
I saw my first bluebird of the summer at evening chores yesterday. It’s due to be 45° and rainy with high winds for most of this week.
April 19, 2015
Yesterday everyone was happy to be outside in the weak spring sunshine and 55° warmth, to loll on open ground suddenly, blessedly free of snow.
I have known for a while now that I have too many animals.
My great plan for turning a profit by keeping two cows to raise calves for beef was logical, but flawed. I did not realize how much the sheer labor involved (feeding, watering, mucking, milking) would multiply, nor how tedious and occasionally alarming a herd of teenaged boys would be.
At the same time, last fall I had kept the nicest of last year’s ewe lambs to sell, but the interested buyer backed out at the last minute and other inquiries made me anxious (“do sheep need fencing?”) so I’d felt forced to overwinter fourteen. Then lambing brought the predictable population explosion.
This is too many animals for a single person with an outside teaching job and no back-up help.
This winter was grueling and the past month nearly finished me off. I will write about it eventually. For now, I am concentrating on catching up with the work and making plans to reduce my numbers significantly over the summer. I am going to find another family-cow home for Dorrie. Leo the bull will depart to slaughter after he breeds the cows. The steers will grow up and go. I will keep half a dozen ewes. I am not going to raise pigs this summer. I am even thinking of turning to beef cattle for a few years as a rest.
In six months the barn should be much quieter and my nerves less exhausted.
April 17, 2015
Last Sunday, the day after Allen’s memorial, the sun came out and the temperatures rose. For the first time in months I did not have to dig out a drift over the back fence of the barn paddock. Since then the snowpack has ebbed and shrunk — sometimes by a foot overnight! — until now there are only dirty rags of snow in corners of brown, drowned-looking fields, and in the woods. The robins arrived at the farm four days after they first showed up at school. I stopped wearing gloves, and switched my wool hat for a baseball cap. Yesterday it was 18° at morning chores and 66° by evening. The driveway is glistening and rutted with spring mud. Soon buds will flush on the bare trees and the grass will begin to turn green.
But I have felt exhausted and sad and have watched these bright new beginnings with something like bitterness. For months on the telephone Allen would tell me he couldn’t wait for spring. Now spring is here — one week too late — and he isn’t. I know from other losses that this feeling of angry disbelief will ease. But for now everywhere I look there is sadness and a sense of loss. We worked on every inch of this farm together.
Yesterday morning the first tree swallows arrived, scouting for homes. I was late for work but I made myself stop and take five minutes to clean out the six bluebird boxes that are used by both bluebirds and swallows. In one I found a clutch of bluebird eggs that mysteriously failed last summer.
Now all six boxes are ready for new occupants. As I climbed back into my truck I heard Allen say in my mind, “Good girl.”
The first insects were hatched and buzzing by evening chores.
April 12, 2015
My dear friend Allen died suddenly last week. He had carried in wood to fill the woodbox and had his gloves on and the leash on the dog to take her for a walk when he dropped dead to the floor. Of course with congestive heart failure and multiple aneurysms he was not supposed to be carrying logs or walking the dog, but that was Allen. He lived his life until the last minute. When I would scold him he always said with a smile, “Everybody’s got to die sometime.”
And now sometime has arrived. I knew it was coming but still I was not prepared. My heart is aching. I would like to write about him in the future but for now I’m so sad I can’t organize my thoughts beyond the big one: my dear, gentle, funny friend is gone.
A part of me still can’t believe it.